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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Who Is Your Role Model?

By Peter DeWitt — January 04, 2013 4 min read
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My journey began with the recognition that I am not just one self but two selves. One self is connected to the past, and the second self connects to who I could become in the future. C. Otto Scharmer

There have simply been too many tragedies in our nation. The nightly news is filled with stories of negative issues from across the country and around the globe. Like any box office Hollywood hit we made it to the edge of the fiscal cliff and we’re still not sure if we are the better for it. This all comes at a time when some people are suffering from personal woes that weigh heavily on their minds. They clawed their way to the finish line of 2012 like they were running the New York City Marathon.

The New Year always brings refreshed hope that things will be better. It gives us all the proverbial clean slate. As we look at the hardships around us, we start to appreciate our lives a little more. It shouldn’t take that much effort to appreciate what we have but it does. Some people get excited for what the New Year will bring. Others look back on life and wonder how time flew by so quickly and reflect on the people who helped get them where they are.

Who was that person for you?

Every educator has at least one person in their lives who was, or is, a major influence on them. Perhaps it was a parent who was always present during the successes, break-ups and the times you didn’t make the team. Maybe it was a friend, coach or teacher who was there when you needed them the most. Our mentors and those we look up to offered us guidance and helped set us all on a path to find success. They gave us someone to look up to and we never wanted to let them down.

Do our students look at us that way?

The School of Hard Knocks
When we look to the media we do not see many people who deserve our positive attention. Perhaps I’m just cynical at times when it comes to the media, but the people who often make the news aren’t making it for displaying the most positive behavior. Unfortunately, it seems as though bad boy behavior is what makes people famous and that doesn’t send the best message to our students.

It’s funny though because if you remember your childhood, you most likely heard the same type of gripe from your parents or the teachers around you. We had our share of rock stars, celebrities and professional athletes who were not worthy of our accolades. We usually held those for our parents, teachers or coaches. We just didn’t realize it until many years had passed.

There are many factors that contribute to how a child learns in the classroom, and one of them is the positive influences they are surrounded with at home and at school. They may be born into a family that values academics or have a parent that supports them through thick and thin. Or they may have a teacher that knows how to speak directly toward them as if they are their personal mentor who helps negotiate their way through life.

As a struggling student, I had some very good role models that played a part in my future success. Some of them were very present in my life, while another had long since passed.
Although at the time it didn’t seem like I was going to find success at all. When you’re retained in elementary school, struggle throughout your formative years and graduate near the bottom of your class, you don’t feel very successful...at anything.

Just because you don’t excel in high school doesn’t mean you won’t be successful in life.

It took me fifteen years after high school to admit that I was ranked fourth from last in my graduating class. However, I did some very smart things when I was younger. I surrounded myself with a couple of friends who excelled in school and they never made me feel any less because I didn’t have the same academic gifts they did. When I was teetering on self-destruction, they were there to help pick me up, even when I didn’t think that I deserved it.

I had a couple of coaches who helped keep me on a better path. They were the role models that I looked up to even when I veered off the path from time to time. Although my dad passed away when I was young, he was very present in shaping me because I had my mom and siblings every step of the way. I saw his face when I look into theirs. There was a time when I was completely lost, had no direction and very minimal goals. I never thought that I would make an impact on anyone’s life. I hardly had an impact on my own. There are many kids out there who feel the same way.

Do you reach out to them?

Struggling Learners
There are many students who feel that same way that I did, and we are more at risk of churning out those students because of the over focus on achievement, grades and the wrong kind of data. There needs to be more of a whole child approach (ASCD). We need to take a break from numbers and remember to focus on the people. They are living, breathing young adults and children who need direction and that direction shouldn’t always be guided by numbers.

If we were fortunate enough to have role models we could look up to, we need to make sure we are paying it forward and providing those same opportunities to our students. Those that came before us helped shape who were are and we should all hope that we will have the same impact on the kids we work with because they certainly have a profound impact on us.

Who is your role model?

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.